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Karen Jonas - Interview

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 24 / 8 / 2018

Karen Jonas - Interview


Much acclaimed and rising country singer-songwriter Karen Jonas talks to Malcolm Carter about combining motherhood with a heavy touring schedule and her just released third album, 'Butter'.

Fredericksburg, Virginia based singer/songwriter Karen Jonas recently released her third solo album, ‘Butter’. Both her earlier albums, ‘Oklahoma Lottery’ (2014) and ‘Country Songs’ (2016) demonstrated that for all the country influences in her songs, Karen was not afraid to experiment by working in elements of blues, jazz and even ragtime into her music. Both albums were critically acclaimed and rightly so; not only is Karen a songwriter who could set astute lyrics to immediately appealing melodies but she has a powerful, commanding voice. ‘Butter’ is Karen’s most personal set of songs to date. The title track relates what is not only the life of countless mothers throughout the world but is also a snapshot of Karen’s own life; that of a hardworking woman who still has to find the time to cook and look after her family and who manages to do all this successfully. The lines that are scattered through her songs like sipping whiskey before 5 o’clock as she’s preparing yet another meal and a few sly digs here and there about some of the devious characters the music business tends to attract go some way to making her songs even more believable. It’s not just Karen’s life that runs through this album, her lyrics will connect with many listeners, too. Despite the tenderness displayed in her vocals at times, there’s this underlying impression that you wouldn’t want to mess with Karen Jonas. There are songs where her vocals are nothing short of sensual, other times they are touching but there’s little doubt that this is the voice of a strong, powerful woman, one with something to say and you’d better listen. Karen Jonas maybe isn’t receiving, just yet, the attention from the music press that she deserves, although she’s doing just fine. There are those who are less talented both vocally and in their songwriting that are walking down a similar country path as Karen yet gaining far more attention. If Karen keeps releasing albums of original songs like ‘Butter’ then it won’t be long before all that attention is focused on her, although one gets the impression that even if her face were on the front of all the music monthlies Karen would still go her own sweet way and continue making music on her terms. ‘Butter’, even more so than her previous albums, shines because of the passion and enthusiasm that seems to come naturally to Karen as soon as she straps a guitar on. Currently touring America promoting ‘Butter’ while looking after a young family is not easy but Karen still took time out to answer a few questions for Pennyblackmusic. We thank her for her time and wish her all the best on the tour. PB: If my math is correct you were a mother of at least two children before your debut album, ‘Oklahoma Lottery’, was released in 2014, which would be a period when most mothers felt least like entering the music business! Why did you choose that point to release your music? When did you start writing and performing your songs? KJ: That’s true, in 2014 my daughters were three and five. I was a recent divorcée with no money and a part time job that hardly covered my child care costs. As it’s been said in many songs, I didn’t really have anything to lose. I was writing a lot and working through a lot when I ran into Tim Bray, Fredericksburg Master Guitarist and Organizer of Things. He helped me get my music out of my living room and into the world. PB: Apart from the obvious country influences that inform your music you also, successfully, blend in jazz and blues to name just a couple of genres that can be heard when listening to your albums. But country music was your first passion? Is that what got you interested in making music? KJ: Country music was not my first passion, and I’m not even sure if it’s my passion today. I come from a folk/songwriter background, my true loves are writers like Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Leonard Cohen. I do love Dwight Yoakam and Hank Williams, but those are more recent interests. I love great songs and great stories. I don’t really care what genre they’re called. PB: Having guitarist Tim Bray on all your albums must have helped define your sound? How did your working partnership come about? KJ: When I moved to Fredericksburg and started playing the open mic circuit and little gigs here and there, people started telling me about Tim. Meanwhile folks were telling him about me. Eventually we met and started this project together, which has been a really defining part of my life and career. His guitar gives my songwriting that country twang, and he’s a really exciting live performer. He’s helped us reach a lot of ears, and helped me grow into the capable, successful person and musician I am today. PB: I read somewhere that you did 150 gigs in one year alone. That’s a lot of time away, especially for a mother of four children! What’s the most challenging part of being a working musician while being a mother? KJ: The hardest thing about being a working musician and a mother is finding time to sleep. Aside from that, scheduling really is a challenge. I’ve got an amazing fiancé and support system here to help me with the kiddos while I do what I do. We do a lot of shows within a few hours drive so that we can get back home after the gig. PB: Your albums are, I think, self-released, and this must also take up your valuable time. If an established label came along would you be tempted to sign? It appears from some of the songs on ‘Butter’ that you’ve not had good experiences in the past. KJ: We’re always looking to move forward in business, because I want to reach as many people as possible. As you mentioned, we’ve had a few false starts that led to a few snarky songs, but we’re building a great team now that we trust. PB: What advice would you offer to any other mothers who have musical aspirations but are unsure about how to take that all-important first step because they feel they maybe couldn’t cope? KJ: Surround yourself with people who believe in you, and prioritize your art. PB: Have you toured Europe? Any plans to tour there in the future? KJ: We have not, but we’d love to. PB: The vast majority (I think there is only one co-write over three albums) of your songs you write alone. Who would be your dream co-writer? KJ: Bob Dylan. Or Ryan Adams. Mostly I like to write alone. I write very personally. PB: Looking back on them now is there anything you would like to change on ‘Oklahoma Lottery’ or ‘Country Songs’? KJ: We tracked those albums live in the studio, so I didn’t get to make any vocal or guitar changes. I’m a real perfectionist, so I would love to go through and sing each song 100 more times. I think people appreciate the rawness of those albums though. PB: Do you have a particular favourite song from your three albums? One that means just that little bit more to you? If so, can you explain why it holds a special place? KJ: Different songs feel more relevant at different times. Recently, 'The Circus' has been my favorite. My life really does feel like a circus, and sometimes I’d just like to go have a good nap instead. PB: What can those who have yet to experience a Karen Jonas gig expect? I’m sure that, again, I’ve read that they can be a little lively! KJ: If you run on over to our Facebook page, Karen Jonas Music, we did a Facebook Live concert a couple of weeks ago where we tried to create a real performance atmosphere. Go give it a look! PB: What’s next after the tour? Spending time with your family is a given which makes me wonder; with what must be such a hectic life how do you find the time to write your songs and where do you do your writing? KJ: The tour never ends, if we’re not on the road we’re playing local-ish gigs 3-4 nights a week. I mostly write in my head. I take notes and then I pick up where I left off when I have a chance to sit down with a guitar. PB: Thank you.

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Karen Jonas - Interview

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digital downloads



Summer Songs EP (2021)
Four track EP from Karen Jonas featuring a cover of ‘The Boys Of Summer’ but it’s her originals that steal the show.
The Southwest Sky and Other Dreams (2020)
Lucky, Revisited (2019)
Butter (2018)
Country Songs (2017)

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